- Press Release
- Sep 29, 2022
Bold Endeavors: Lessons from Polar and Space Exploration
Jack Stuster, Behavioral Scientist and Vice President and Principal Scientist, Anacapa Sciences, Inc.
Excerpt from “Risk and Exploration: Earth, Sea, and the Stars”, NASA SP-4701, Steven Dick and Keith Cowing, editors.
It is an understatement to say that it is a pleasure to be here today to talk to you about some of my research. The concept of risk is something with which we all are familiar. Every decision that we make from the most trivial to the most important is attended by some sort of evaluation and consideration of the costs and the benefits, and the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Expedition risk is of a different order. And humans are not particularly good at estimating risk. The research shows that we have a tendency to underestimate risk over which we have some control, and to overrate risk over which we have no control. That’s why we take the risk of driving on the highways, where presently there are 1.5 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled–incidentally that’s down from 5.5 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled in 1966. You were four times more likely to die in a traffic crash 30 years ago than you are now, and there are nearly twice the number of automobiles and vehicle miles traveled. We’ve done a lot to reduce risk in certain areas.
But why do nations and individuals explore? I have here just a partial list. Trade routes, looking for new resources, in some cases national prestige, and, of course, science. Individuals explore sometimes to satisfy a need for achievement, to do something special,many times out of curiosity, including scientific curiosity, and I truly believe that some people explore because they need to accept risk. Life just isn’t enough without taking some chances. However, taking calculated chances is far different than being rash.
Every bold endeavor that I’ve read about was accompanied by naysayers, people who predicted that the expedition would result in disaster. It’s archetypal that Columbus had difficulty finding the financing for his planned expedition. It wasn’t because people believed the world was flat. By 1492 all learned people knew that the world was a sphere. The circumference of the Earth had been calculated by the Greeks, and then again later, and accurately, 400 years B.C. or so, and again later, but the later estimate was off by a large factor.
Columbus believed that he would reach Japan after traveling about 3,200 miles west. He was right. He did make landfall 33 days after leaving Spain. But had he known that it was really 10,000 miles to Japan, and that a continent or two interrupted his voyage, he might not have taken that risk. He did maintain two journals, one for his own use, and one for the crew that showed they were making far greater progress than they actually were–a way for him to minimize his personal risk on board.
There are many justifications for exploration. One of my favorites is from Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer, that might seem appropriate in this age when people complain about spending money on space. I mean–the critics say we should spend it here–as if the money were actually taken into space and thrown out of the spacecraft. But Nansen, who was a scientist as well as an explorer, wrote that “people perhaps still exist who believe that it is of no importance to explore the unknown regions. This, of course, shows ignorance. The history of the human race is a continual struggle from darkness toward light.” I think that’s beautiful. “It is therefore to no purpose to discuss the use of knowledge. Man wants to know, and when he ceases to do so, he is no longer man.” I think that says it all. And also, Nansen was an early supporter of women’s suffrage, so please don’t judge him by his 19th century usage of the term ‘man.’
Roald Amundsen was a little more blunt in saying that “Little minds only have room for thoughts of bread and butter.” But I will talk more about both Nansen and Amundsen in a few minutes. There are many things I want to talk about that I’m sure I’m going to forget, so forgive me for that. Robert Falcon Scott wrote, after his first expedition to Antarctica, about how ill-prepared they were. “Not a single article of the outfit had been tested, and amid the general ignorance that prevailed, the lack of system was painfully apparent in everything.” Robert Falcon Scott gave great advice about things, but he didn’t really take his own advice. In his final hours, having reached the South Pole in 1912, only to find that Roald Amundsen had been there 30 days earlier, and on the trip back, laying in his tent with comrades who had perished beside him, he wrote in his journal that “We took risks, we knew that we took them. Things came out against us, and therefore, we have no cause for complaint.”
Scott was unlucky also. They perished only 8 miles from the supply depot that had been prepared for them. They just couldn’t get to it in the storm–1912 had been an unusually stormy year in Antarctica. Under other conditions, they might have made it to the depot and come home to write an account of their expedition.
Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who was also a member of Scott’s expeditions, wrote that “the members of this expedition believed that it was worthwhile to discover new land and new life, to reach the South Pole of the Earth, to make elaborate meteorological and magnetic observations and so forth. They were prepared to suffer great hardships, and some of them died for their beliefs.”
They should have been more prepared. Others were. Scott used Manchurian ponies, which didn’t really cut it in the snow, nor had they ever tested the tractors they took to Antarctica. There was a certain hubris involved. Amundsen used dog sleds. The British would not use dogs or skis. It wasn’t British. They were going to slog it out.
Most of my work has involved the risks associated with the psychological, behavioral, and human aspects of isolation and confinement. I use the following analogy to help people get a handle on what it would really be like to be on an expedition to Mars. Imagine living in a motor home with five other people for three years. You’re driving around the country, and you really can’t get out for about a year, and then, when you go outside, it’s for very brief periods, and you have to wear spacesuits, and you come back, and then you spend another year or so driving around with those same five people. You’ve already heard every story that they’ve ever told. The days blend one into another. The condition becomes mindnumbing, and the tiniest, tiniest things get on your nerves. It is characteristic of all conditions of isolation and confinement that trivial issues are exaggerated way out of proportion. Everyone who I’ve interviewed about this talks about how they would have an incredible argument at an Antarctic research station over a fax transmission or something, and blow up, and then an hour later wonder: “What the heck happened? What was that all about?” It is a universal occurrence.
One of the other universals of isolation and confinement is the strange relationships that occur with your Mission Control, with your headquarters, wherever it is located–in Antarctica, it might be Port Hueneme, or it might be the Johnson Space Center or elsewhere. But the remote crew always gets the impression that “They really don’t understand the conditions under which we’re operating. We’re trying to get a job done here and they’re not responding fast enough.” Or, “They’re giving us too much to do.” It always happens. And, you know, I used to think that it was just endemic to isolation and confinement, but I think it’s a structural condition. Even the field offices of a corporation, a small one or a large one, or perhaps the research centers of a major government agency might feel these same sorts of tension. It is just a natural phenomenon that occurs. If you’re prepared for it, you can somehow reduce the risk.
Anyway, an expedition to Mars would be a lot like this metaphor that I’ve described for you. The first research that I conducted for NASA was conducted for the Ames Research Center. In 1982 they took a chance on this anthropologist who was working in the field of human factors to study conditions on Earth that are analogous to what we expected for future space crews. I studied conditions such as offshore oil platforms, commercial research vessels, fishing vessels, fleet ballistic missile submarines, saturation divers, and so forth, and came up with 100 or so design recommendations. It’s my understanding that a couple of them actually made it to the final design of the International Space Station, for which I’m grateful. I would like to know which ones they are. Personal sleeping quarters I don’t think has made it, and that was one of the most important recommendations.
More recently, I’ve conducted research through the Johnson Space Center concerning longer-duration missions, one year to three years. The only analogues available for such a long mission are previous expeditions. And, of course, I included our experience with Skylab, and there is much of relevance from Skylab.
NASA has a tradition of trying to learn from the past, and in many cases is successful. However, I remember reading in one of the industry publications that: “One of the great lessons from the NASA experience on board Mir was that you really shouldn’t hard-schedule everything. You should have this task list that you put things on. And then the crew can go and take from that task list as necessary. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?” I thought: My gosh, that was the principle behavioral finding from Skylab. Didn’t anybody read those wonderful lessons learned reports from Skylab?
So, I wrote a letter to the editor, and I probably angered a whole lot of people in doing so, but there is a lot that we can learn from the past, including our own more recent past.
I’ve found that expeditions, and polar winter-over experiences in particular, resemble in many ways what we can reasonably expect for future space crews. Chronologically, the earliest of the expeditions that I studied was Columbus’s first voyage of discovery. And although it was only 33 days out to the New World and seven months total, there really is a lot to learn from that experience. For example, he had strong-willed subordinates who questioned his authority regularly. One of them [Pinzon, commander of the Pinta] left the expedition in search of gold to the north, leaving the two principal vessels.
And it’s probably not well known that on Christmas Day, 1492, the Santa Maria went ashore and was broken up. The reason was the crew had partied the night before, celebrating Christmas Eve, and left the watch to a cabin boy who didn’t know what to do when the ship slipped its anchor. No one was killed during the process, but it left Columbus with only one hull.
Columbus believed in triple redundancy long before it was a NASA policy, and he probably would not have left Europe with fewer than three hulls, and certainly would not have returned. Oddly, in one of those incredible coincidences that occurs that I’ve read about in the history of exploration, Pinzon rounds the bend of this little island–this tiny island where the crew was trying to decide what to do. Would they be able to rebuild and make a small craft out of the remnants of the Santa Maria? And then Pinzon shows up. They were able to return home, but in the two smallest of the three craft.
Redundancy is an important method for reducing risk and increasing reliability. There are other methods: overbuilding–you build the valve to withstand 150 percent of what you expect it to withstand; graceful degradation, so that you have time to do something about it; and maintainability. When you have a human crew, you should really take advantage of the crew for maintainability.
One of my favorite explorers is the French explorer, Jules-Sebastien- Cesar Dumont d’Urville. Early in his career, he was on the island of Milos when people approached him about a statue that was hidden in a cave. He saw it and wanted it for France, so they dragged it down to the ship, breaking off two arms in the process. It’s what we know as the Venus de Milo. Later in his career, he commanded two expeditions to the Pacific and to Antarctica. He was one of the first to see the mainland of Antarctica, which he named Adelie Land for his wife, whom he rarely saw. He also named the linguistic groups of the Pacific with the names that we use today–Polynesian, Melanesian, Micronesian. He was an exceptional leader. At a time when expeditions–naval ships, in particular–were commanded autocratically, he was a kind and generous captain. He dressed as the crew did, which perplexed the British any time they met, because they didn’t understand. They didn’t believe he was truly the captain when he was wearing a straw hat and an open shirt. He was a realistic man.
On his second expedition, he was required to leave Marseilles carrying plants to the South Pacific. I don’t know exactly what the plants were, but he had lots and lots of plants. At first, he objected to it because they were in pots and all over the ship, including in his cabin. And, after a week at sea, he wrote in his journal that this was a wonderful addition to an expedition and, if he had his way with things, every French ship that left port would be accompanied by plenty of foliage and greenery inside. I think that that’s not too dissimilar from some of the comments that we’ve heard from space crews loving to spend time with the growing experiments on board.
The French had discovered early on something that was very painfully learned elsewhere, and that is, that there’s often conflict among subgroups in an isolated and confined situation, and there were a lot of problems with the civilian scientists and the military crew. The scientists were outside of the command structure and it was always a problem, which led to the demise of some expeditions, or contributed to it, at least. So the French would take bright Naval officers and train them to be botanists or natural philosophers and artists.
It’s particularly appropriate that we talk a little bit about the Lewis and Clark expedition in this year of the bicentennial. And there is much to learn, even though there are great differences. It was all outdoors, for one thing, and not in a confined environment, except when they were in winter quarters in Oregon where it was raining all the time. One of the things that we can learn from the Lewis and Clark expedition is to establish a spirit of the expedition. Thomas Jefferson named it the “Corps of Discovery”–a brilliant thing to do. I was very pleased in 1999 when I visited the Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center and saw a sign that read,” Expedition Corps.” I asked, “What is this?” Andy Thomas responded, “Well, it’s for the people who are planning to go to the International Space Station and beyond.” I said, “It’s a stroke of brilliance.” You have people already using the mind-set that this is an expedition. It’s going to be a long time–it’s not a test flight, it’s really an expedition. It’s my understanding that Michael Foale is responsible for doing that. [Foale replied that astronaut Ken Bowersox (also in the audience) was responsible for the use of the term]. Well, it was a stroke of brilliance and should be congratulated. It’s a wonderful idea. It helps people get in the mind-set for an expedition.
There were 40 explorers with Lewis and Clark. By the way, only one member of the expedition perished in the entire three years, and he died of a burst appendix, we believe, based on a description of the incident. Any one of you who ever had acute appendicitis would probably agree with me that you’d want to have that out before you go. Now, the physicians tell me that that’s not necessary, but, from my experience, I wouldn’t want to have that condition a long way from home. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was 28 months long, about the same as an expedition to Mars might be.
Lewis and Clark and their company met many native peoples along the way. That probably won’t happen on a mission to Mars, although some people are hoping for it, I’m sure. But one thing that they did was to describe everything in their journals. Captain Clark and Captain Lewis were meticulous journal keepers. I thought it might be interesting to find out what exactly they were doing on the 27th of September 1804–200 years ago today. I was amazed. It was the most pivotal period of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Two days ago, they were on the Missouri River, and they reached a tributary near what is now Pierre, South Dakota. They had finally encountered the Teton Sioux, who they had heard were going to be hostile to them. Indeed, it was a three-day period of intense hostility. They had learned through interpreters–through other Native Americans–that the Sioux intended to prevent them from going any farther and to steal all their stuff. The two preceding days were just incredibly tense.
On the 27th, they were trying to leave the village, and the little boat that was taking them out to the larger keel boat had lost its anchor and was having trouble maintaining its position. The little boat came out and parted the remaining cable, and there was a lot of hollering to get the people to their oars and so forth, and that alarmed Black Buffalo on shore, so he called all 200 of his warriors out to the shore. Lewis and Clark believed for sure that this was going to be the showdown. They went to stations–Clark went to the bow and manned the swivel gun, a little two-inch cannon loaded with shot. They had something like 20 men with blunderbusses loaded with shot trained on the main body of the group. They had a technological edge here. They would have wiped out 40 or 60 of the Teton Sioux, but there’s another 200 of them in arrow shot, and they could keep an arrow in flight at all times, and it’s a long time to reload the weapons on board the keel boat.
There was this standoff for we don’t know how long, but it appears to be quite a while, with Clark in the bow shouting, the interpreter, who really didn’t speak Teton Sioux, trying to convey to Black Buffalo to control his people because there were warriors who were coming into the water, who were grabbing hold of the mast of the little boat to keep it ashore. They thought for sure that this was the incident that they had been fearing. What Clark didn’t realize was that his people obeyed him because it was a military organization. The Teton Sioux were only recently a tribal organization. It was a group of bands that came together when the resources permitted. Black Buffalo’s control over the 200 or so was based on his charisma–only a quarter of them were related to him and had some obligation to obey him. But Clark took a risk that if he held his ground and didn’t fire, it would be resolved peacefully. And the decision paid off. Finally, Black Buffalo pulled on the arm of one of the guys and apparently told him to back away, and the Corps of Discovery was permitted to go.
Of course, the Sioux dogged them all along the way, trying to get them to come ashore or to take them on board, which Lewis and Clark didn’t do. I’d just like to read a sentence or two from the journal entry for this day 200 years ago. “We were on our Guard all night. The misfortune of the loss of our Anchor obliged us to lie under a falling bank, much exposed to the accomplishment of their hostile intentions . . . Our Bowman, who could speak Maha, informed us in the night that the Maha prisoners informed him we were to be stopped. We showed as little signs of this Knowledge of their intentions as possible. All prepared on board for anything that might happen. We kept a Strong guard all night, no Sleep. Captain Clark, 27 September 1804.” Just south of the Mandan villages is where this all occurred 200 years ago today.
The lessons applicable to the future? The importance of good leadership. Previous studies found that good leadership is actually more important than good habitability. Plan everything. Have a sense of cooperation and perseverance. To the extent possible, live off the land. Now, you won’t be able to hunt buffalo on Mars, but you will be able to use the resources on Mars in the same manner to extend your reach. And, of course, develop a spirit of the expedition, symbolized by the Corps of Discovery.
Another expedition that everyone knows about is the voyage of the Beagle. It was really a British surveying expedition, the purpose of which was to chart the coastline of South America. Captain Robert Fitzroy was–I can’t think of a polite word to use–a very stern and narrow-minded person. He at first didn’t want the volunteer naturalist, Charles Darwin, on board, because he didn’t like the look of his nose. And then later, off of the coast of Argentina, Darwin had an argument with Fitzroy and almost abandoned ship, because Fitzroy thought that slavery was a noble institution and had a lot going for it and Darwin thought it was disgusting. And, so, at their next port, Darwin spent several weeks on shore until he cooled off.
Darwin wrote in his journal about the crowded conditions on board a research vessel. So many chronometers and so many people packed into small space. It was a very difficult journey for him. Darwin, after this five-year voyage and returning to England, lived to be a very old man. But he never again set foot on a boat, never again left England.
One of the most relevant expeditions is the Belgian Antarctic expedition of 1898-1899. It’s relevant not just because it was the first expedition to winter over in Antarctica, the first expedition to really have science as its true objective in Antarctica, but because it was a multinational crew, cosmopolitan, and, in this regard, truly modern. It included Norwegians, Romanians, and, of course, Belgians. They had the very best of all French food, and one American, Frederick Cook, the ship’s physician.
What happened on board the Belgica is well-documented. The crew gradually slipped into a malaise that was paralyzing to some of them. One man died because of what Cook thought was the effects of the isolation and confinement. One man developed a temporary deafness. Another man developed a temporary blindness. One man, each night, would find a place below deck where he could hide and sleep, because he thought people were going to kill him. Roald Amundsen served his apprenticeship as an explorer as mate on the Belgica, and later wrote, “Insanity and disease stalked the decks of the Belgica that winter.” He credited Frederick Cook with saving the expedition from certain psychological collapse.
Cook saw what was happening, and he thought that there was this heavy psychological component, but he also thought something was missing from their diet. This was before vitamins had been discovered, but he figured there was something missing. He tried to get the men to eat fresh penguin meat, but it tasted too fishy for many of the men. So, for those who were the most afflicted by this malaise, he would have them stand with nothing on except an overcoat exposing their naked skin to the glow of the ship’s stove. He called it the baking treatment. They’d stand there for as long as they could each day, taking turns doing this. Whether it had some effect on them, or maybe it was a placebo effect, it did have the effect of helping the crew get through this very difficult period. Cook also thought that exercise would help, so he required the crew to take walks on the ice, but this devolved into a circular path around the ship that became known as the “madhouse promenade.”
It was a dismal time, and it appeared when the spring came that they were not going to be able to release themselves from Antarctic’s icy embrace. They worked very hard with ice saws and explosives and finally did break free, because they knew that they couldn’t survive another year.
This is not to say that people haven’t survived isolation and confinement before; many have. There were often several hundred whaling ships locked in the ice at any given time in the north during the 19th century. It is well known that during the height of the Cold War, there were 10,000 American submariners, at any given moment, at sea, in isolation and confinement.
Regarding the Australasian-Antarctic Expedition and Douglas Mawson, I formerly neglected the Australian contribution to exploration until my dear friend, Desmond Lugg, showed me that it was just a characteristic American narrow-mindedness to focus on certain things and disregard the rest. I rectified that situation by reading as much as I could about this expedition and about Mawson. There is a tremendous wealth of information that we can extrapolate from Mawson’s experience. For one, personnel selection is important, and, for another, weather influences everything. It’ll interrupt your plans. It will break equipment and keep you from doing things that you want to do. If you don’t think that’s relevant to the future, ask Michael Foale, who had on several occasions to retreat to the hardened portion of the International Space Station when there were solar events, solar weather. Also, on Mars, there will be similar solar events and solar particle events and also dust storms. Dust storms on the planet Mars can envelope the entire planet, and that would affect an expedition.
Roald Amundsen was the most successful of all explorers; he always made it to his destination. First to the Northwest Passage. First to the South Pole. In 1923 he was on two Dornier flying boats to fly over the North Pole. One of them developed problems and had to land. It crash-landed. The other one landed. They spent two weeks on the ice, leveling with wooden spoons an airfield for them to take off. Amundsen structured every moment of every day. The hours of work, the hours of eating, the hours of sleep, the hours for talking, for smoking, everything. He was in charge, and he made himself known to be in charge and organized everything. When they returned to Norway two weeks later, of course everyone thought he had died in the ice, and it was a wonderful welcome. Amundsen later perished in the North while looking for Umberto Nobile, a guy who he devoted his biography to criticizing. I work in the field of human factors, and I’m grateful to Roald Amundsen for his wonderful statement, “The human factor is threequarters of any expedition.”
Ernest Shackleton is probably the best known of all the explorers. There are movies about him, books about him, and seminars at corporations to impart the style of leadership that he had developed. His recruiting ad from a London newspaper read, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” Now, this might have been a personnel selection measure on his part, because I truly believe he thought he was going to return, but he wanted to make sure that everyone who embarked with him would be aware of the risks. Shackleton had very clever ways of selecting people not so much on their technical expertise, but on how well they got along with their colleagues.
He would ask them impertinent questions, and if they responded defensively, that might not be the kind of person that you really want in your tent eight months into a bad situation. But if they were humorous about it or philosophical about it, the person might be okay. Although Shackleton never made it to any of his destinations, he never lost a man. On the British trans-Antarctic expedition, the Endurance was locked in the ice, and [the] crew spent months on board, and then several months in a camp next to the ship as it was sinking. Then they moved to a camp that was on an ice floe that was as large as they could see, but, gradually, as the winter ended, the ice floe was breaking up around them. It was a mile across. Then it was several hundred yards across. Then it was 100 yards across.
They had been practicing their egress to the boats. They had saved lots of equipment and three cutters from the ship. They had everything in the boats and they had practiced many, many times to escape the floe. It started to break up beneath them. It actually broke up right in the middle of the camp. Shackleton dramatically rescued one of his crew members from the ocean, pulling him onto the ice, and they departed. Then, they spent a week in these open boats in the worst sailing conditions on the planet, before they made it to a tiny rock called Elephant Island, where they made it ashore.
Shackleton knew that they could not survive there very long, so he selected five men to accompany him on the most arduous and dangerous open-boat voyage probably ever undertaken, to get to a whaling station on South Georgia Island. He took some of the people with him because he needed their skills, but he took some of the five people with him because he didn’t want to leave them there. They were the malcontents that might have made things really bad for the folks who were going to be confined to the huts they made from the overturned cutters on Elephant Island. He eventually made it to safety. They made five rescue attempts, finally getting to Elephant Island with a borrowed tug from the country of Chile. It is a wonderful story.
I want to talk just for a moment about Richard Byrd, because he’s American and one of the few of the American polar explorers that I consider relevant. On his 1934 expedition, Byrd built Advance Base, a 9 by 13 foot hut that was transported 100 miles from Little America and buried in the snow. It was going to be his experiment in isolation and confinement. Originally, he intended to have two people live there, but wrote later that he didn’t want to subject anyone else to the risk. He considered the primary source of risk to be the psychological risk of being alone in complete darkness. Well, he really shouldn’t have done this, because he almost killed himself three different ways. He fell and injured his shoulder even before the party that had delivered him had departed. He was continuously poisoning himself from the exhaust from the gasoline generator and from the fumes from a poorly vented stove. He almost froze to death when he locked himself out of the cabin in a storm–that was poor human factors preparation, the latch on the door.
But the crew at Little America knew that something was wrong several weeks into this experiment when his Morse code transmissions were the equivalent of slurred. They mounted three different rescue missions before they got to him, and he was in terrible shape. He survived to write one of the most eloquent accounts of life in isolation and confinement at its worst in the book Alone, in 1938. “Time was no longer like a river running, but a deep still pool,” he wrote. He also said that “a man who lives alone lives the life of a wolf.” That is, his manners left him, which is something that happens in isolation and confinement The Norwegian Polar Expedition is one of my favorites and the expedition from which we can derive the most benefit. Fridtjof Nansen would have had a wonderful career in modern times, either as a rock musician or an actor. But he was a scientist. He was one of the founders of the modern theory of neurology. He was one of the popularizers of skiing as a sport. He had skied across Norway from Bergen to Oslo. Skiing was not a sport at the time, it was something rural people did to get around.
It is difficult for us to appreciate what the world was like during the closing years of the 19th century. We take for granted a communications network and travel abilities that allow us to reach anywhere in the world. But in 1893, there were still many unknown regions and many unanswered questions of the natural world, and the most compelling was, “what is at the North Pole?” Is it land? Is it ice? Is it open ocean? There were fanciful predictions. And many people had perished trying to find out.
Nansen had a plan. There was some evidence that the polar ice pack moved across the top of the world from east to west. So he thought: if a ship were built properly, it could be locked in the ice on purpose, and then you could allow nature to carry you across the top of the world. He had a plan for a ship which he called the Fram. “Fram” means “onward” in Norwegian, and it was his personal motto. He approached the Norwegian government with this plan and received a grant. He had to go back, not unlike modern expeditions, because of cost overruns for building in an additional margin of safety.
During a time when crews were separated–with the “men,” or crew, sleeping before the mast in the forecastle, and the officers and scientists in the main cabin–Nansen designed the Fram so that all staterooms opened onto the saloon, or the main area, a perhaps characteristically egalitarian, Norwegian approach. It was a very stratified society, but he did this to encourage comradeship and facilitate habitability. Nansen tested everything beforehand. There were spinoffs from his expedition. Polar travelers still use the Nansen Cooker, because it extracts the last calorie of energy from fuel.
The Norwegian Polar Expedition provided a model for all future explorers. The Fram sailed up the coast of Norway, across Siberia, and at a point closer to Alaska than Norway, headed into the pack ice on purpose. The ship was built with a rounded bottom and a recessed keel. Every fitting could be removed so ice could not get a purchase on this ship. When the ice encroached, and the pressures increased on the hull, the ship rose up out of the ice and remained cradled in that manner as she drifted across the top of the world. The theory was proved, and when it appeared they would get no farther north, Nansen selected one man, Hjalmar Johansen, to accompany him on a dash to the pole.
After many weeks, they found that they were only making a mile a day. So, at the closest that anyone had reached to the North Pole at that time, they turned back. They had no hope of regaining the Fram. They made it to Franz Josef Land where they were caught by an early winter.
Nansen knew that the secret was to keep people busy with meaningful work, and, of course, to be especially careful about the food. Norwegians are not afraid of the cold. They say there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. And he also knew that it was important to keep people entertained. The crew looked for every opportunity to celebrate. After awhile, they actually went into their almanac to find other countries’ holidays to celebrate. Special celebrations break the monotony and help motivate a crew.
Nansen and Johansen built a 6 by 10 foot hut out of stones and walrus hides. Their entire world was illuminated during that Arctic winter by the pale glow of a blubber lamp. They had nothing to do. They slept sometimes as many as 20 hours out of the 24, in the same sleeping bag, because it was the most efficient way to conserve heat. But they never resorted at any time during their nine months to any sort of conflict or harsh words. This was the first thing that the press asked them when they got back. How did you survive? They burst from their hut in the spring and performed every task that was required of them expertly, despite the mind-numbing sameness of the nine months that they had endured in isolation and confinement. They couldn’t clean themselves. They had no towels. They didn’t have a change of clothes. They would take their knives to scrape the soot that came from the blubber lamp that heated their food and illuminated their hut. They would scrape the blubber off and back into their lamps, recycling the fuel. It was incredible. Their dreams were filled with clean clothes and Turkish baths.
Nansen and Johansen came upon a British expedition within a month after leaving their hut, and they stayed there for another month or so until that expedition’s relief ship came. The day that they stepped foot on Norwegian soil, the Fram broke loose from the Arctic pack ice on the other side of the world, then made its way back. The crew was united and sailed together around Norway and up Christiana fjord to what is now Oslo. They were greeted as if they had just returned from another planet. It’s hard for us to imagine what it was like 110 years ago, but the similarities to the feelings that we would have are certainly there. This artist, explorer, neurologist, oceanographer, champion skier, and founder of Norway was instrumental in the League of Nations. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for saving hundreds of thousands of lives from the Armenian situation, and also helped with a famine. The new Soviet Union after World War I wouldn’t recognize the Red Cross. Nansen was respected throughout the area for his experiences, and organized a relief effort, when he found that there was a famine underway, while helping to repatriate prisoners of war. Presently, there are people in Eastern Europe who hold what is called a Nansen passport for displaced persons. His legacy is wonderful.
There is much to learn from the past that is applicable to the future. I have a lot to say about that, but I am out of time. The main themes to emerge from my research are: Certain problems are highly predictable, but they can be mitigated by taking the proper precautions. One of the most important findings is that humans can endure almost anything.
My work has focused on the behavioral and human factors issues, and I performed a content analysis of diaries that were maintained by the leaders and physicians at French remote duty stations on tiny islands in the south Indian Ocean and at the Dumont d’Urville station in Antarctica. Engineers have been asking the behavioral sciences for many years, “What’s the most important behavioral issue? Is it privacy and personal space? Is it sleep? Is it group interaction? What is it?” Psychologists and others would say, “Well, group interaction.” “Well, how much more important?” “We don’t know.”
I used content analysis to help answer the engineers’ questions. The method is based on the assumption that the more someone writes about a topic, the more important it is to that person. I found that group interaction received almost twice the number of category assignments as any other category. The study resulted in the first rank ordering of behavioral issues based on quantitative data. I also found a decline in morale during the third quarter of an expedition; whether it is a 5-month mission or a 12-month mission, there is a drop, in effect. Initially, I thought, isn’t this an interesting and useful discovery. Then I started to realize that it applies to almost everything. Think of a semester in college: you’re only three-fourths of the way done and there is all that work yet to do, and I’ve only got three weeks remaining. I think it applies to many situations in addition to isolation and confinement.
There are some specific lessons. One of them is to design for redundancy, as NASA does so well, and also for maintainability. There is no substitute for having Captain Lovell on board to take duct tape and fabricate a solution to a problem. One should expect casualties. Don’t consider it out of the question. Also understand that weather will affect everything. The conditions will be different, but most of the problems that will confront future explorers will be the same problems that were confronted in the past. It won’t be the gasoline-powered generator or the poorly vented stove that Byrd encountered, but some other similar situation. We have embarked on a new age of discovery already, and there is much more in store for us–wonderful things.
One of my favorite quotes is from Arthur C. Clarke, who is one of the most prescient people on the planet. He invented the PDA for 2001: A Space Odyssey. He invented the communications satellite, as we all know. His words inspire me. Every time there is a visible pass of the International Space Station over my house, I am out on my roof watching it. “Every age has its dreams, its symbols of romance. Past generations were moved by the graceful power of the great windjammers, by the distant whistle of locomotives pounding through the night, by the caravans leaving on the Golden Road to Samarkand, by quinqueremes of Nineveh from distant Ophir . . . Our grandchildren will likewise have their inspiration–among the equatorial stars. They will be able to look up at the night sky and watch the stately procession of the Ports of Earth–the strange new harbors where the ships of space make their planetfalls and their departures.”
I could find lots and lots of quotes about taking risks. There are hardly any about not taking risks, which might be telling. Of course, we heard earlier about Admiral Zheng, whose armada of more than 300 ships in the early part of the 15th Century sailed from China all the way to Africa. The flagship of his armada was more than 300 feet long. Compare that to state of the art 1492 [European] naval technology. What would history have been like had the Emperor not had all the ships burned and made it a capital offense to build a ship with more than two masts? We might all be speaking Chinese now. I’m not sure. It’s important, sometimes very important, to take risks, because the costs of not taking them can be greater than taking them.
I want to end on a more cheerful note. My favorite philosopher, Mark Twain, commented on more than the weather in San Francisco in the summertime. He also said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Jack Stuster’s work for NASA has included a study of Space Shuttle refurbishing procedures and studies of conditions on Earth that are analogous to space missions, including an analysis of diaries maintained by the leaders and physicians at French remote duty stations in the Antarctic and on small islands in the South Indian Ocean. He has developed design and procedural recommendations to enhance the habitability of the International Space Station, future spacecraft, and planetary facilities. Stuster completed a study of Antarctic winter-over experiences, expeditions, and voyages of discovery, which are documented in his book Bold Endeavors: Lessons From Polar and Space Exploration, published in 1996 by the Naval Institute Press.